MONETA, Va. Top-10 finishes may mean stardom for the anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series, but top-50 finishes guarantee paychecks. With the top-50 cut slated for the end of Friday, the second day of the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts, most anglers in the field will be on the $10,000 side of that cut.
How much weight will that take? The rule of thumb on this tour is usually twice the Day One 50th-place weight, minus a pound or two. Roughly, then, the 106 anglers know to aim for approximately 20 to 22 pounds to avoid going home empty-handed.
And at least 80 percent of them are within striking distance of that cut, if you grant that a decent day on the water would be that 11-pound daily cut plus two pounds. By that math, Ken Cook, for instance, with just 7 pounds, 1 ounce on Day One, might need only a 13-pound sack to make the critical cut, and he's all the way back in 86th place.
When this scenario was proposed Friday morning to Paul Elias, as he stood on a dock, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup under a phosphorescent half-moon, he chewed it over for a moment. "I agree," he said. "Ninety guys have a good shot at high 21s."
The Day One leaders, he said, were largely the anglers who caught 3-pounders when others were landing 2-pounders. Boyd Duckett sits in first place largely on the strength of a couple of lunkers, which in this lake cannot be counted on. "I think Boyd will come back to reality," Elias said. "These tournaments here bring everybody back to reality."
The drama on Day Two will be watching which of the top anglers can match their Thursday hauls. With patterns all scrambled, aquarium-clear water and local traffic sure to mount, Friday will separate the anglers who are locked in from those who scratched a lucky lotto ticket a day earlier.
"Not a lot of big ones are being caught overall," said Kenyon Hill, who began Friday in 55th place. "It's a funky time of year. You might be around good fish or not around any."
Added Gary Klein, who began the day in seventh place: "We all knew this was going to be one of our toughest events." The summer temperatures, the stages of the spawn, the relatively small size of the lake "this was definitely a tournament to catch a big bag on the first day," Klein said. "When you catch a 5-pounder here, it means something."
At the dock Friday morning, anglers all hailed that ever-meaningful kicker fish. With so few caught the first day, 4- and 5-pounders were sure to punt their lucky captors well up the standings.
Steve Kennedy watched "hundreds" of fish swirling around his lure Thursday, yet caught only three bass. "I just don't think we have the baits to catch 'em," he said. "It's close, though. We see 'em race up to it, then " Kennedy made the sound of screeching tires. Point is, they brake for worms.
James Niggemeyer, for one, said he didn't expect much shuffling in the standings. He found promising spots in practice that turned into duds Thursday, and was surprised by how well his fellow Elites caught fish.
"You come in with 10 pounds and you think you're doing OK," he said. "And I'm not.
"These guys are so steady-Eddie. They just catch 'em. Once they get the scent of blood, they're on it."
Editor's note: This week, ESPNOutdoors.com invited the Virginia Tech bass fishing team to join coverage of the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts. The collegiate anglers will post a regular blog on this site and appear on Hooked Up, the live Internet show that airs at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.on Sunday in advance of the live weigh-in. Please feel free to post comments to this blog via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news page on this site.